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Live at the Rrazz :: Bigger, Better & More Diverse

by BeBe Sweetbriar
Friday Jan 18, 2013
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Over the past 8 years, San Francisco has had a love relationship with Robert Kotonoly and Rory Paull for being a huge part of the city’s nightlife. Kotonoly and Paull’s The Rrazz Room (an off shoot of the Plush Room in the York Hotel) has provided city residents and guests with the type of nightclub experience reminiscent of the hay days of the Copa Cabana, The Coconut Grove, and yes, even the Cotton Club where the entertainment was premium and the experience unbelievable.

Now, The Rrazz Room has been forced to move out of the Hotel Nikko where it has resided for the past 5 years due to the hotel’s refusal to exercise an option for owners to extend their lease. The owners of The Rrazz Room have responded to the unexpected development as nothing more than a discriminatory action by the hotel leading to a lawsuit brought on by Kotonoly and Paull.


Live at the Rrazz  

But this unpleasant circumstance may be a blessing in disguise because out of the ashes of The Rrazz Room at the Hotel Nikko arises Live at the Rrazz at the Historic Cadillac Building. Though the move was not planned, the new digs for The Rrazz provides the capability of doing even more with its nightclub experience than it already offers to its audience.

The additional seating, the addition of a highly-rated chef, an expanded food menu, easy access and parking, and an even more varied entertainment line-up can be expected at the new LIVE at the Rrazz. But never fear, the intimate setting and high quality entertainment from both show business legends to local upstarts remain.

I had an opportunity to chat with the proprietors of LIVE at the Rrazz and unexpectedly discovered that this may be just the silver lining around a gray cloud so often spoken of.


Tommy Igoe  

Filling a void

BeBe: Having been a part of the audience at both of your previous hotel location venues, The York Hotel and Hotel Nikko, I don’t think a lot of people know the background on how The Rrazz Room got started. I’m sure that in the beginning, you and your business partner Rory Paull must have seen something in San Francisco’s nightlife entertainment that needed to be filled.

Live at the Rrazz: Certainly in San Francisco, but I think there is a bigger picture here. Looking back at the past, we were at the Nikko (with The Rrazz Room) for five years. And, prior to that we ran The Plush Room (in the York Hotel) for three years. The face of the nightclub, I think we have kind of helped move that along to something that is much more pertinent to today, and much more pertinent to the diversity and talent that’s out there. There’s not just a form of good entertainment. It’s not just about cabaret. It’s not just about Broadway stars. It’s not just about R&B. It’s not just about jazz. It’s really the common link. As far as Rory and I are concerned, It’s just the quality of the entertainment.

BeBe: You have also brought stand-up comedy to your venue. And you are correct about the diversity, not only in the genres of entertainment that you’ve mentioned, but you have also done a great job with mixing into your entertainment line-up a wealth of local talent with your legendary performers.

Live at the Rrazz: We are here in San Francisco where there are so many incredible great talents. So, for me to run a club and not include the best of the best of what is here in that club, (it) would be a crime! I’m not taking any claim that I am building stars, because that is not the way it is, but what we do we give these great local performers a place where they can do their thing in a nice atmosphere. And, in a venue that gets enough attention, not only here in the San Francisco Bay Area, but it also gets attention throughout the country. So, artists that play our room get that national type of attention too because people watch what this club does.


The Cadillac Building  

A different level

BeBe: Now you have moved into the new space in a City Landmark - the historical Cadillac building on Van Ness in the performing arts district, and now called Live at the Rrazz, from the previous location at the Hotel Nikko.

Live at the Rrazz: Correct. We had a soft opening on January 10th with Russ Loreson doing his acclaimed tribute to Bobby Darin during a matinee. You know we had a full season booked through 2013 before this whole thing (lawsuit filing against the Hotel Nikko) went south with the Nikko. I had a lot of obligations to artists, agents and ticket buyers. It could have been catastrophic had it not been for the fact that we found an adequate place to call our home. And we are fortunate for that. But, the reason we opened with Russ there is because we had a sold-out group booking for 2pm specifically on January 10th. That’s why we frantically prepared the new space for that day.

BeBe: We started our conversation touching on the fact that you started out managing the Plush Room inside of the York Hotel, and then after 3 years moving into the Hotel Nikko with The Rrazz Room. Now, Live at the Rrazz, is an independent standing building.

Live at the Rrazz: It’s quite a beautiful building. As you have said, it is a historic building. They couldn’t even make buildings with that sort of opulence if they tried at this time. But, we are just one aspect of that whole complex. There are four floors of lofts and condos there as well. There’s also the AMC Cinema across the hall from us. And, then there is a new health club (Crunch) that opened about a year and one-half ago.

I do believe, especially due to the fact that we have such prestigious names coming into our room, that us being there is going to lift the whole building to another level. It’s good for us. It’s good for the building. It’s good for the tenants. I think it’s good for the area on Van Ness.

BeBe: I agree. It’s such an eclectic array of things in the building. With the movie theater being right there, you literally could go see an early movie, and walk right across the hall afterward to some great club entertainment.

Live at the Rrazz: Yes, it becomes a destination point for entertainment. The other thing that I love about it, BeBe, is the fact that it is visible from the street. It was sort of a hardship being inside of a hotel where you really had to know about The Rrazz Room for you to even stumble upon it. What’s great about our new Van Ness location is that it is all glass windows, and when you look in, you see the grand staircase that leads to the new Live at the Rrazz. That is a great thing for us. You mentioned that we were in two hotels previous to this, and that is funny that you asked about that. You see when we, Rory and I, first came out here to San Francisco, we were concert promoters. We were here for an entire summer when we became friends with the owners of The Plush Room, who were the same owners of the York Hotel at the time. They were ready to throw in the towel with The Plush Room because as hotel owners, they just didn’t have the expertise to run a nightclub.

So, they spoke with us, and with our connections, asked us if we would like to run it. That’s how we got into The Plush Room. We built the room up from what it was, and then three years into it, the hotel was completely sold and the new owners wanted to lift the rating of the hotel to a 3-star, and you can’t do that unless you have a restaurant in the hotel. So, never mind the legacy of The Plush Room, they decided to get rid of the club and bring a celebrity chef into the space with a restaurant. And, that’s how we wound up at the Nikko.

If you look back at the times when nightclubs were at their prime, there was the Copacabana and the Latin Quarter in New York City, the Latin Casino in Philadelphia, and The Coconut Grove in Los Angeles; and none of them were in hotels. So, I don’t think it has to be in a hotel necessarily to make the whole thing work. There obviously are good things about being in a hotel and bad things about being located in a hotel. One of the good things is you have performers who can go from their room to the venue without leaving the building.


Frenchie Davis  

Still intimate?

BeBe: And since you don’t have street presence located in a hotel, you gain having the guests of the hotels to be guests of the nightclub. However, for what you do and for the name you have built for LIVE at the Rrazz, that benefit is probably not needed.

Live at the Rrazz: You know you would think there would be more of a back and forth -- where hotel guests would come to see shows. But I have to tell you that not many hotel guests came to see shows. It’s really more local people, and we have a huge local following.

BeBe: A couple of things I want to ask you about. First, LIVE at the Rrazz has more seating. After interviewing many of your performing guests in the past, I know from their comments that they love the intimacy that the Rrazz creates for them and their audience. So when I hear of additional seating, are you going to lose that intimacy which has been such a positive element for the room?

Live at the Rrazz: Rory and I were very sensitive to that (intimacy). You know intimate can be 50 seats, but intimate at The Rrazz Room at our capacity was 180. I think when you get to (seating) numbers of 350-400, it’s still a small venue; but I don’t think you can realistically say that this is a nice, intimate experience. With LIVE at the Rrazz, we have the ability to add about 40-50 more seats. And BeBe, even with 40 more seats, you’re going to be steps away from the performers. I don’t think we will lose the intimacy at all.

BeBe: And the second thing: the extended food menu. What about that? I know in the past while being in the audience at the Rrazz, I would have enjoyed more of a meal. You brought up some of the clubs of old, and back in those days and in those nightclubs, it was a complete outing in that you could enjoy a light or complete meal in the club, and enjoy a great show. Is that something that will be afforded us this time with the new LIVE at the Rrazz in the new location?

Live at the Rrazz: You’re right, an element of nightclubs back in the time when nightclubs were the thing to do was there was a food element. You know, we weren’t really in control of the menu at the Hotel Nikko. They had their own restaurant upstairs to worry about, and they just didn’t want to devote the manpower to really do more than what The Rrazz Room menu could. But now we have a dedicated chef, Bronson Macomber (Gary Danko’s, Cafe Flore), who is phenomenal and has created a menu that has at least three times as many items on it (than before), and we are working toward full service meals. The menu will have something for everybody.


Clint Holmes  

BeBe: As you mentioned earlier, you already your 2013 calendar booked out going into this unplanned move. And, that’s one thing I’ve always enjoyed about The Rrazz Room was that I could look out far in advance for when I had guests coming into town, special birthdays or what have you, and I could go to your calendar and based on who was playing during that time, determine if I could make the Rrazz apart of the upcoming experience. So, it is great that the year’s lineup has been carried over to the new space, but one thing I noticed as I perused the calendar were a few new things that I was unfamiliar at the old location. You have Tommy Igoe’s Big Band playing every week. Is that something new?

Live at the Rrazz: This is one of my pet projects that I’ve been so proud of. Tommy Igoe’s Big Band is the big band that has been at the Birdland (New York’s historical jazz club named after Charlie "Yardbird" Parker) for many, many years.

Due to a family relocation, Tommy Igoe had to move to the Bay Area here. And he specifically knew of The Rrazz Room, and he wanted to create the experience that he did at Birdland, the Birdland Big Band experience here in the San Francisco Bay Area. We started this periodic series of Big Band Mondays back in April of 2012. And with some initial difficulties at the beginning because Tommy wasn’t a big name known in this area, we have since built his audience to a packed house. So, starting Feb. 25 we will begin having Tommy Igoe’s Big Band at Live at the Rrazz almost every Monday for the rest of the year.

BeBe: And, then I also noticed the Upright Cabaret’s American Icon Series.

Live at the Rrazz: I love that, I love that! They are doing something very hip, and something very interesting in terms of cabaret. They have these young, up-and-coming performers meshed in with seasoned performers as well, and what they do is the music of the American Songbook, American types of music, and tributes to performers. We have two of Upright Cabaret’s shows that I’m really excited about. One, the Disco show, on Feb. 10.

BeBe: "The Voice" finalist Frenchie Davis is a part of that show. Love her dearly!

Live at the Rrazz: Frenchie Davis will be there and Dezmond Meeks from ’America’s Got Talent.’ Then, the other show is ’Leather and Lace’ on June 16th which will be the music of Stevie Nicks, and more of that sort of music. These are really interesting things. One of the things that is a challenge for me, BeBe... when I hear a patron go ’Wow, I didn’t even think they could do something like that’, the challenge is to keep things interesting, and to keep people saying you never know what to expect at The Rrazz Room.

You know, BeBe, I doubt there are too many venues who can go from The Mills Brothers to Lil’ Kim (we both laugh). And we have been able to do that, and I’m so proud of that!

BeBe: That’s the new tag line - Live at the Rrazz, from The Mills Brothers to Lil’ Kim.

Appearing at LIVE at the Rrazz at its NEW 1000 Van Ness Avenue location:

Thru Jan. 20 - Jefferson Starship
Jan. 22-27 - Clint Holmes
Jan. 25-27 - Donnell Rawlings
Jan. 28 - Erich Bergen
Jan. 30-Feb. 2- Keiko Matsui

For an updated entertainment schedule visit www.liveattherrazz.com


Based out of San Francisco, BEBE SWEETBRIAR is the Omni Present Drag Chanteuse. As an entertainer and hostess, BeBe can be scene every week hosting and performing at countless events and parties in the San Francisco. One of the few drag personalities to sing live while performing, BeBe has literally graced every notable stage in San Francisco, bridging many gay sub-community gaps. She has also been the opening act for Destiny’s Child Kelly Rowland, "Ugly Betty’s" Alec Mapa and Dance Diva Kristine W. Adding recording artist to her list of performance accomplishments in 2008 with the release of her first single "Save Me", Ms. Sweetbriar will soon release her fifth dance single in 2012 called "Show It Off"..
As an actress, BeBe was introduced to film with a lead role in the independent film "Under One Sun" with her character dealing with religious, racial and gender issues. Additionally, she appeared in the campy musical "Devious, Inc" (Australian Film Festival, San Francisco Short Film Fest) also adding additional vocals to the musical soundtrack. Both of these performances led to her selection for a lead role in Aisha Media’s next short film series, "Con-tin.u.um" to be released in 2012.

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